Parenting my ADHD child is the hardest thing I have ever done. To be honest, I’m tired.
Really tired…all the time.
I’m not saying this to complain. I’m telling you because there ain’t no shame in my game.
If you’re reading this article you probably either have an ADHD child or suspect that you have an ADHD child. That means you’re tired too. It also means that you are an invested parent, looking for a friend for the journey.
You’re in the right place sister.
How Does an ADHD Child Behave?
Like a wild animal…. Oh, sorry, that’s my child. Yours is likely very different.
Truthfully, ADHD encompasses a wide variety of behaviors and symptoms, at an assortment of severities. The National Institute for Mental Health breaks the disorder down to an ongoing pattern of disruptive behaviors linked to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Take a few ingredients from each of those behaviors and stir them into a vessel called a child and you may create an atom bomb. However, you may also come up with a flitty idea fairy who never completes anything or a class clown who absolutely can’t stay in their seat.
The variations are endless. Take my ADHD child for example:
My Luna is a complete wild card, prone to moments of hysteria and boundless energy. She thinks faster than she can speak and struggles with communication. She jumps on beds and couches, has no care for consequences, and is the world’s best snuggler. If pushed she will fight and if she fights, rest assured, she will win.
I’m certain she will either grow up to be a CEO or a Mob Boss. Either way, it’s all good.
How Do You Test a Child For ADHD?
Diagnosing the ADHD child is a process…often a long and grueling one. There is no set test, but rather a lengthy evaluation and often multiple professionals involved.
Start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. He or she will know who to refer you to and may suggest you start with behavior therapy. If and when your child is sent to a child psychologist, they will be evaluated by an entire list of criteria.
The diagnostic manual (as referenced by the CDC) breaks inattentive and hyperactive behavior patterns down into symptoms to act as guidelines for diagnosis. It is likely that if you take your child to be evaluated, you will be asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire designed to determine if your child has those symptoms to a disruptive degree.
What are the Three Types of ADHD?
The John Hopkins University lists the three types of ADHD as
- combined type where an individual has both impulsive and hyperactive symptoms along with inattention and distractibility
- impulsive/hyperactive type where an individual has impulsive and distractive symptoms without inattention and distractibility
- inattentive and distractible type where an individual has inattention and distractibility, but not the hyperactive symptoms.
Is ADHD Caused by Bad Parenting?
Having an ADHD child does not mean you are a bad parent. You have not failed in some way.
I’m sure deep down you knew this, but as moms, we need to hear it. If you have or suspect you have an ADHD child, you did not cause ADHD.
Lack of understanding and ineffective parenting can make ADHD symptoms more pronounced, but at the beginning of this journey, we don’t always know what we don’t know.
If you are concerned about how your parenting affects your child’s behavior, ask for a referral to a PCIT therapist. PCIT or Parent-Child Interactive Therapy is often covered by insurance and is a series of coached interactions between parents and children that has been shown to improve behavior.
Really, if you boil it down…PCIT is teaching proven parenting skills to parents for the benefit of the child.
My husband and I did PCIT with Luna. At the time she was undiagnosed and unmedicated and it only helped marginally. However, it was amazing when applied to her siblings. Now that Luna is medicated, we see great responses from her when we use our PCIT skills.
How to Deal with an ADHD Child: 11 Tips
Every mom finds herself wondering how to deal with her child. Moms of ADHD children even more so.
As a mom of seven and a few years into this wild ADHD ride, I’ve learned a thing or two. To tell you the truth, I’m learning more every day.
1. Take Care of Yourself
Parenting an ADHD child is exhausting. Make sure you don’t neglect yourself.
The saying “if Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy” is the truth. By taking care of yourself and getting appropriate rest, you are helping yourself get into the proper headspace to be the best mom possible.
2. Choose Your Battles
It’s no secret that ADHD children are notoriously cantankerous and have ideas and opinions of their own. These ideas and opinions are extremely important, and they are often willing to fight for them.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your energy to fight the battles that really matter.
If your child wants to wear Paw Patrol pajama pants, a party dress and cowboy boots to school…it’s no big deal. Save the argument for later in the day when they are refusing to take a bath.
If it doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of life, don’t make a big deal out of it now. Save your sanity, sister!
3. Listen Actively
ADHD children can have a hard time communicating. Their brains run a mile a minute, and it can be frustrating when the rest of the world can’t keep up.
When your ADHD child is trying to tell you something, repeat what they have just told you in a respectful manner. Make sure they know you are listening.
For example, if your child has just spent 5 minutes ranting about (what you think is) sitting next to ______ at lunch because they smack their lips and purposefully dribble pudding of their mouth. Sum their rant up with,
“So, you would rather not sit next to __________ at lunch because they have bad table manners?”
Don’t be surprised when your child tells you that you have it all wrong and starts ranting again.
Listen closely to the continued communication and once again repeat what you glean from the rant. It may take several tries but keep reassuring your child that you are trying to understand. Repeat back what you hear as many times a necessary.
4. Make the Most of the Good Moments
There are so many tough moments in parenting that it’s easy to get caught up in how hard it is. When your child is in a good mood, take the opportunity to play and have fun. Join them in their favorite activities and make some memories.
5. Simplify Your Life
Hectic schedules are hard on children, especially ADHD children. If we’re honest, they are hard on moms too.
Take a step back and create a life your child can thrive in. My article Slow Living Lifestyle: 10 First Steps is a great place to start. Make a series of small steps to take back your schedule.
6. Recognize and Encourage Self-Soothing
Learning your child’s method of self-soothing will allow you to direct them to the activity before the full-on meltdown phase is reached. Self- soothing looks different for every child.
Generally, we think of self-soothing as being a calm, repetitive activity. With an ADHD child, it may be anything except calm. If your child self-soothes by jumping or running, you both will benefit by having an acceptable space for the activity.
Luna self-soothes in a creative frenzy. I keep her well-stocked with art supplies, have given her a corner of my kitchen for a studio, and have learned to tolerate the mess. If I notice that she is becoming upset, I will ask her to make me something or suggest a friendly drawing contest.
7. Know Your Child’s Triggers
If you know that something is going to upset or wind up your child, do your best to avoid that thing unless you have the time and energy to deal with the results. Don’t shelter your child from the world but do your best to choose when and where you are going to expose them to their triggers.
For example, if your child has a massive meltdown after using a device, avoid screen time during outings or if you have a less pleasant (screen-free) activity planned later in the day. Use common sense and don’t make life harder on yourself than it has to be.
8. Never Use ADHD as an Excuse
This one should be pretty self-explanatory.
If you let your child behave badly or slip past the rules because they have ADHD, they will begin to expect special treatment and learn to make excuses. This could start a lifetime of bad choices your child believes that they do not have to take responsibility for.
Yes, your ADHD child is going to struggle, and they may misbehave more than other children. I know that you know that…they don’t need to know that.
Hold them to the same high standard as their siblings and peers, then help them reach those standards. They need to learn all the same life lessons any other child learns.
9. Grow a Thick Skin
This one is particularly hard for me.
I’m a tough country gal who swears like a bronc-buster and is a bit rough around the edges, but as a mom, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My child told me she hates me used to break my heart. A stranger complaining about my shrieking toddler use to make me doubt my abilities as a parent.
I’ve had to shore up my tender heart.
Angry children can say very mean things. Sometimes they have no idea what they are saying other times they are very aware. At the moment we have to just let it roll off our backs and gently deal with the problem in a calmer moment.
People who have not parented a challenging child, have no idea about what we’re dealing with. Their opinions don’t count. Let it go in one ear and out the other.
Like my grandpa (the bronc-buster) would say, “be tough, Baby Girl.” Parenting is hard, but you’ve got this.
10. Communicate with Teachers and Child Care Providers
Don’t turn your child loose on an unwitting adult without a fair warning. It could be disastrous for everyone involved.
Have a conversation with new teachers and childcare providers and bring them up to speed on your child. Let them in on your child’s struggles and triggers, but also tell them about your child’s strengths and self-soothing activities.
Build a caring team of adults to help your child navigate their way to adulthood. The more adults rooting for your child, the better.
ADHD children can be infuriating, but they can also be hysterically funny. Look for the why in their antics and even ask for an explanation.
You might be surprised by how often their explanation changes your opinion of the situation and makes you laugh. Write down the funny moments to revisit when you need a reminder about how wonderful your child really is.
I wish I could sum this article up with a magic bullet that makes everyday sunshine in roses, but that’s not my superpower. Instead, I give you 11 coping mechanisms that have worked wonders in my home and an offer of solidarity.
Parenting is hard. Parenting an ADHD child is really hard. You are going to be tired; you are going to be frustrated, but you will not be alone.
Really, I mean that. Drop me a line in the comments so we can connect. Life is easier together. We need other moms in our corner.